Locusts may threaten crops in North Africa and Middle East, UN says

18 December 2003

After good rains in the summer and autumn, desert locusts have reproduced rapidly and may threaten winter crops from northwest Africa to the Red Sea, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

After good rains in the summer and autumn, desert locusts have reproduced rapidly and may threaten winter crops from northwest Africa to the Red Sea, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

In Mauritania where breeding continues in many areas, 12 swarms of immature locusts, a kind of grasshopper, were seen east of Nouakchott, the capital, in the first 10 days of December. Three other swarms flew over the capital itself on 4 to 6 December, according to a new FAO report.

So far nearly 20,000 hectares have been treated with pesticides in Mauritania and some 2,400 hectares in Western Sahara, the agency says. Control operations treated some 3,600 hectares in Saudi Arabia in the first week of December, while operations continue in Sudan.

Although locust numbers are declining in Mali and Niger, the wingless immature insects known as hoppers as well as young adults remain in the traditional breeding areas of Tamesna and Adrar des Iforas in Mali and in the southeastern Air Mountains in Niger.

"Bands are forming in Mali, where one swarm has been reported so far," the report says. More swarms may develop and move northwards, threatening northwest African countries.

Swarms are highly mobile, flying many hundreds or thousands of kilometres between summer, winter and spring breeding areas. Plagues develop when the locusts find ideal conditions in seasonal breeding.

A mature swarm arrived on the Red Sea coast of Sudan from nearby outbreak areas near the Atbara River in the interior of northeastern Sudan. More adult groups and a few swarms are expected to appear on the Red Sea coastal plains of Sudan and lay eggs that will hatch in the coming weeks, FAO says.

Adult groups and swarms may also continue across the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia where locusts were seen laying eggs on the coastal plains between Jeddah and Yenbo. Some groups moved towards the Saudi Arabian hinterland in areas close to the towns of Medina and Taif, where they also laid eggs.

While devastating to crops, locusts can be a potentially protein-rich source of food, according to FAO, which has collected recipes for preparing them from various societies where they are consumed.

 

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